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Panhard-Levassor Grand Prix 1908, 12,5 Litre Double Chain Drive

The 1908 French Grand Prix of Dieppe saw the coming together of the Titans of Motorsport, a showdown between all the great car manufacturers of the time.
Organised by the Automobile Club de France, it was a 10 laps endurance race of almost 50 miles (80 km) per lap, which saw average speeds of 80 mph (128 kph) on roads of loose gravel. It was a spectacular event, with grandstands lining the route, to which a truly international entry flocked. Beyond the French entries, there were Mercedes, Benz and Opel from Germany, Italia and Fiat from Italy, Austin from England and Thomas representing the USA.
Panhard-Levassor were true automobile pioneers, securing previous victories on the Gordon Bennett Trophy twice and the Circuit des Ardennes race 3 years running. They built three cars especially for the 1908 Grand Prix, boasting huge four cylinder, 12,5 Litre engines coupled to a four speed gearbox linked to double chain drives, giving an extraordinary top speed of 100 mph (160 kph). Maurice Farman, a pioneer aviator, was the chosen pilot of car Number 32.
Farman was often in the front running pack, but it was both the Mercedes and Benz teams that had made the more prudent tyre choice, and it was the regular changing of tyres that kept the Panhard-Levassor off the podium. With disagreements between the manufacturers, there was not another Grand Prix until 1912, with a three Litre capacity restriction the agreed solution. So the Grand Prix cars of 1908 were the last of the great, large capacity giant chain driven racing cars and the end of an unparalleled era.
Following Dieppe, a wealthy Argentinean instructed Labourdette to road equip the Grand Prix car, using it both for road and racing events in Argentina. Laid up in 1930 and discovered in 1972 in extraordinary original condition, it was then acquired by its current owner. Upon its return to Europe, Bentley specialist Dick Moss carried out a painstaking restoration. For 40 years the current owner has enthusiastically used this mighty machine, driving from his home in England to compete at circuits all over Europe, as far south as Bordeaux and Le Mans, before driving back again.
This titan of the chain-drive era is possibly the most original and complete Grand Prix car of the epic pre-1912 years and definitely the most important important surviving French competition car of this period. It is proof of the astonishing speed and capability of the large capacity cars of 1908 and a testament to how powerful a force France was in these early pioneering days of motorsport.
This Panhard-Levassor Grand Prix was exhibited by Fiskens at the 2012 Retromobile in Paris.

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